Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the problem with academics — and people who grew up rich

When I was fourteen, my Dad, who had entered the University of Florida as a freshman at the age of forty thanks to the GI Bill, told me, "Take everything you hear from academics with a big grain of salt. These are people who have been institutionalized all their lives."

I always remember that when I hear academics trying to explain a world they rarely visit.

This post was inspired by Susannah Breslin's comment in Men's strip club confessions:
My main problem with feminism and sex work is that the majority of feminists talking about sex work are in the academy. They took women’s studies classes and 99 percent of what they learned about sex work is, like, on the Internet or from one porn star they met once. If you have something to say about it, you should go into that world and study it and get to know those people and spend time there. Instead, feminism is just manufacturing abstractions about what sex work is, and they’re too chicken to go in and really explore the industry. So for the most part, feminism can’t tell me anything about sex work because they’re too busy posturing as feminists to find out what that world is really like.
A few years after Dad's comment, after I'd spent some time among people who grew up rich, I realized they've also been institutionalized all their lives, though they haven't a clue, because the upper class are in an institution with branches anywhere it might occur to them to go. There's a reason why the biggest difference in luxury hotels around the world is the accent of the cleaning staff.

Though I think I'm fairly cynical about the ignorance of the rich, they still surprise me. When Emma and I went to New Orleans for a friend's birthday party last year, we took a riverboat ride with a New Yorker who could not believe Americans still lived in shacks along a river. When I was younger, I would've cringed as I saw the tour guide's sidewise glance at her, and then I would've taken her aside to talk about the kinds of people I've known most of my life. But I just made the mental note and let it pass. The woman in question is very sweet. It's not her fault that her economic comfort makes her simultaneously a woman of the world and one of the most provincial people I've ever known.